Scottish husband-and-wife team Chris and Julie Ramsey, who make up Plug In Adventures, crossed the Mongol Rally finish line in Ulan-Ude on Saturday the other week to become the first entrants to complete the epic trans-continental challenge in an all-electric vehicle – a modified 2016 Nissan LEAF dubbed the AT-EV (all-terrain electric vehicle).
Chris and Julie left the rally start line at Goodwood Motor Circuit in the UK on July 16 and travelled 8,000 miles (12,800 kilometers) through 13 countries, charging their car 111 times for less than £100 in electricity costs to reach the Siberian finish line, just north of the border with Mongolia.
“There were a number of detractors who told me an electric car isn’t capable of long-distance journeys,” said Chris. “After thousands of miles and almost zero problems, I can tell you that is not the case. This has been the absolute trip of a lifetime, and I can’t believe we’re now at the finishing line.”
Throughout Europe, Chris and Julie had the use of an extensive rapid charger network that can provide an 80 percent battery charge in just 30 minutes. However, once they got into Bulgaria and beyond, they faced a dwindling number of rapid charge options and instead turned to a variety of alternatives for electric power.
These included bars, cafes, hotels, hostels, a barbershop, a post office, garages, car dealerships, a tractor showroom, a police station and three fire stations in Russia. They even had a trained electrician plug their LEAF directly into an electricity pylon in the middle of the woods in Siberia.
Chris and Julie enjoyed the goodwill of people in every country they travelled through, only paying for electricity at a handful of charges. Rarely did anyone turn down the team’s request to plug in their car, and on top of that they were frequently offered drinks, food and even accommodation for the night.
“We’ve been shown some of the best hospitality we could have hoped for,” said Chris. “One example that sticks out was when we turned up at a Nissan dealer in Russia at 2 a.m.”
The Nissan LEAF also proved a trusty companion. Chris said: “In terms of vehicle reliability, the car’s been brilliant. We’ve had one puncture, one damaged alloy wheel, a mud flap came off and someone stole one of our stickers. That’s it!”
On the challenges that faced the pair, Chris said: “Illness hit us in the later stages of the journey which was hard, but other than that, it’s been fine.”
During the journey, the Plug In Adventures team was keen to promote the benefits of running an all-electric vehicle, and they found interest in the car and their journey in all the countries they visited. Chris was even invited to take part in a series of panel discussions at the Astana International Exposition, bringing the 2017 theme, “Future Energy,” to life. The LEAF AT-EV was also put on display at the expo.
The team also tackled some of Europe and Asia’s amazing roads, including the Transfăgărășan Highway in Romania – a winding mountain pass that provided a healthy amount of regenerative braking in the car’s B-mode.
The longest stretch the couple did on a single charge with their fully loaded vehicle was 115 miles (184 kilometers), pulling in to charge with 6 percent capacity left. On average Chris and Julie were logging 95 miles (152 kilometers) between charges, keeping enough spare battery power once they got to the charging locations in case they needed to find an alternate energy source.
Julie said: “This has been a trip of a lifetime. We’ve eaten unusual foods, slept in weird locations and even travelled on a cargo ship. We’ve met the most amazing people and been overwhelmed by both the generosity and the interest in our electric adventure.”
Plugging into adventures
Plug In Adventures was founded by Chris Ramsey in 2011 and was born from a combined passion for adventure and electric vehicles. Comprising a group of EV enthusiasts based in Scotland, its aim is to engage with the public in unique and different ways, championing all things EV-related.
Plug In Adventures is no stranger to putting electric cars through epic drives. In September 2015, they took just two days to finish the 1,652-mile (2,643.2-kilometer) journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back again in a Nissan Leaf 24kWh, using only publicly available and free EV charging points.
In April 2016, they completed the North Coast 500 in a Leaf 30kWh. The challenging 516-mile (825.6-kilometer) circuitous route around the Highlands of Scotland is pitched as “Scotland’s answer to Route 66.”
The Mongol Rally is a 10,000-mile (16,000-kilometer) charity drive across the mountains, desert and steppe of Europe and Asia that takes place each summer and first started in 2004. The event is organized by The Adventurists (http://www.theadventurists.com) that run a number of events that have raised £5million for charity to date. Each team in the Mongol Rally is expected to raise a minimum of £1000 for charity.
The rules state that participants must drive a small, sub-1.0-liter engine car as it will make the event more of a challenge with a greater chance of a breakdown meaning drivers can interact with locals along the way. The drive is unsupported with no “on the road backup.” Participants are expected to get themselves out of trouble.